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 Marcus Aurelius Root  (1808 - 1888)

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Lived/Active: Ohio/Pennsylvania      Known for: portrait painting, daguerrotypes-photographs

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Granville, Ohio, Marcus Root is a lesser-known Ohio artist about whom increasingly more information is being discovered.  Jeffrey Pressman, who visited Granville and from several sources compared portraits of the artist, has contributed data including the identity of portrait subjects as being Emily Boardman Spelman of Ohio and her daughters Charlotte Maria and Martha Emily.  Martha was age three at the time of the painting, and the Spelman family lived in the Avery Downer House in Granville.

Not much has been published about Root, but an article by Gloria Hoover in the Newark, Ohio, Advocate, October 7, 1984, provided some details of his life.  He was born August 15, 1808 to a family of some of the earliest Granville settlers.  Root had seven brothers and sisters.  He trained with Robert Seevers and then went to Athens, Ohio to make a living painting portraits.  From Athens, he wrote a letter back to a friend in Granville:

"Perhaps you have not heard that I follow facemaking for a living.  Well it is no more strange than true.  I have made from two to three in a day, at $1.37 1?2 & 50 per each.  Notwithstanding I am learning fast. . ."(Gustafson 29)

Root's obituary in the Philadelphia Press, April 16, 1888, indicates he stayed several years in Athens and then went to Philadelphia about 1834 where he studied with Thomas Sully.  However, Sully was not impressed with Root's artistic skills. 

In 1838, Root opened an art school in Philadelphia, and then, becoming aware of the potential of photography, established a successful career as a daguerotypist.  Primary subjects later in his career were famous Americans who attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. 

Previous to that time, he was in Mobile Alabama in 1844; New Orleans, 1845; and in 1846, he bought a gallery from J.E. Mayall in Philadelphia.  From 1849 to 1851, he was in New York City working with a brother; and then after traveling to London in 1851 to exhibit work, he returned to Philadelphia. 

 In 1864, he wrote one of the first books on the history of photography, The Camera and the Pencil, and "he is credited with coining the term 'ambrotype' for gallss plate positive photographs" (Falk 2820)

Eleanor H. Gustafson, Collector's notes, The Magazine Antiques, February 2008, p. 28-29
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Compiled by Lonnie Dunbier

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